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A double-barreled rifle or double rifle is a type of sporting rifle with two barrels instead of one, available in either "side-by-side" or "over-and-under" barrel configurations (the former being traditional). It is basically identical to a side-by-side or double barreled shotgun, only with rifle barrels instead of shotgun tubes.
Double rifles are one of the family of combination guns. In general, double rifles are much more expensive than the more common magazine-fed, bolt-action repeater rifles. They are usually targeted at serious "professional" or big-game hunters, and also tend to be expensively finished; this aspect, their cachet and their high price is another parallel with double barrel shotguns, many of which run in the thousands, or even tens of thousands, of dollar range. Although a double rifle can be made in any caliber, traditionally, they are manufactured as large-bore hunting rifles, in cartridges like the .300 H&H Magnum and other large calibers, up to .500 Nitro Express and larger. They are considered the classic African safari "stopping gun", a powerful rifle intended for quickly stopping an enraged and charging animal (for example, a Cape Buffalo that has been shot but only wounded), due to their powerful loadings, instinctive handling and quick follow-up shots, and almost 100% reliability rate. Because of the usual nature of their use, most double rifles use "iron sights", which are more ideal for close-range, fast shooting, unlike bolt-action rifles, which are frequently given telescopic sights for improved long-range accuracy. Also, because they do not have the lengthy action of a bolt-action rifle, a double can have just as long a barrel (to maximize velocity for a particular loading) and yet be significantly shorter in overall length (as well as having quick and balanced shotgun-like handling), thus making it better to use in close brush and cover.
While double rifles originated as muzzleloaders able to make a rapid second shot without reloading (crucial for big game), modern double-rifles are breechloaders, with "break open" actions, where the barrels are pivoted on the stock; releasing a catch causes the barrels to hinge downward, exposing the chambers and (usually) ejecting the cartridges. Each barrel accepts a single round only. Early double rifles used manually cocked external hammers, from the days of black-powder and muzzle-loading, well into the days of the breechloader, due to the need for absolute simplicity and reliability. However, most now feature internal, self-cocking strikers that cock upon closing the action. In either configuration, the gun can either feature twin triggers fore and aft (one for each barrel), or a single trigger and a selector switch that selects which barrel the user wishes to fire.
While double barrel rifles were invented to give more firepower than a single-barrel muzzle-loading rifle, modern magazine-fed rifles are able to hold more ammunition than a double rifle. However, no matter what sort of repeating rifle one uses, there is always a possibility of it jamming, and a double barrel can make a follow-up shot faster than a bolt action; semi-automatic guns are very rare for big-game hunting, due to higher possibility of failure, and the difficulty of designing an action strong enough to withstand the powerful cartridges typically used. Another advantage of a double rifle is that the two chambers can hold different loads, each selected for a different sort of game or different field conditions. For example, one barrel can be loaded with a cartridge with a very heavy bullet for close-range stopping power or shooting through brush, while the other is loaded with a lighter, faster bullet ideal for smaller game or targets at distance in the open. This is similar in concept to other combination guns that take the idea further and provide barrels firing completely different calibers, or even one shotgun barrel and one rifle barrel. A magazine fed rifle can only fire the round chambered without reloading or switching to a different gun. However, this capability is rarely used in the field, as most of these guns are reserved for close-range stopping power, and in an emergency situation, one wants both rounds to behave the same and give maximum stopping power. A typical double rifle exists only to give two very powerful, 100% reliable shots at a selected target at relatively close range.
Manufacturers of double rifles
- Holland & Holland
- Hartmann & Weiss
- Westley Richards
- Verney-Carron, French, imported by Verney-Carron US
- Aya, Spanish
- James Purdey and Sons
- John Rigby and Company
- B. Searcy & Co., USA
- Anderson Wheeler
- Davide Pedersoli